Students get taste of college life

TaléDrianna Gordon carefully stirred a mixture of hot oil and wax and waited for it to cool before adding several drops of fragrant oil.

As she stirred the mixture, chemistry teacher Michael Simmons moved around the lab helping other students in Southeastern Louisiana University’s Upward Bound program find the right balance of ingredients to create, bottle and market their own hand lotion.

“This gives them a heads up of what they will be doing in college classes,” said Simmons, a Denham Springs High School educator who has been teaching industrial chemistry to Upward Bound students for several years.

The program is for high school students from low-income families, and is designed to get them prepared for college, program director Ron Abel said.

“These are the students who aren’t supposed to beat the odds,” he said.

Students participating in Upward Bound attend 16 Saturday sessions at the university during the school year and a six-week session during the summer, when they can live at SLU and attend academic and cultural classes, Abel said.

“Not only do I get to experience college classes but I get to experience college life,” said Ariel Higginbotham, 17, a student at Independence High School.

SLU’s Upward Bound Program is available to students in Jefferson, St. Helena, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes, and offers classes in mathematics, English, science, study skills and foreign language. The program gives students the opportunity to earn college credit in freshman English, math and science courses. The program also offers help in finding financial aid, personal and career counseling, and ACT/SAT test preparation.

Keisha Davis, a student at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Hammond, spent the morning of July 2 multiplying polynomials using a program that helps students practice ACT questions.

The former St. Helena High School School student said that since using the program, she has seen her ACT score improve.

Jeff Gardland, a social studies teacher at Maurepas High School and an Upward Bound instructor, said SLU’s Upward Bound program gives students who may not otherwise have an opportunity a chance to use the software.

“The more the students practice, the better their scores will be,” Gardland said.

To keep the students focused on what can be a grueling schedule of classes, Abel said, Upward Bound offers rewards — such as trips to Washington, D.C., and Orlando, Fla. — to the students for attending tutoring sessions, raising ACT scores and following the rules.

Marvin Smith, 17, of Kentwood High School, admits he was skeptical about the program when he enrolled as a freshman three years ago.

While the program has helped him improve his grades, he said, it has also “let me know that I like talking and I like being around people.”

By taking college courses, Smith also has re-evaluated his future plans.

“I wanted to be a doctor,” Smith said. “I took biology (in Upward Bound) and thought ‘no!’ I want to be a computer engineer.”

About 65 students are enrolled in SLU’s Upward Bound program, and 65 percent of SLU’s Upward Bound students complete college, Abel said.

“If you go to college for only a year or two and drop out, it does you no good,” Abel said. “This program gives students the support they need to finish college.”

The Upward Bound program, which is funded by grants, is free of charge to qualified students.

For more information on Upward Bound, visit